Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Outside temperature is -5C/23F so I'm browsing the news tonight.

Some time ago, so long ago I haven't been able to find it, I mentioned one of those experiments where one person wears virtual reality goggles, and someone else has cameras linked to those goggles. The effect is that the person with the VR goggles has the sensation of seeing themselves from outside their body and actually feels as though they are outside their body. At the time, it was touted as proof that out-of-body experiences don't happen. That they are illusion.

My response was that it proved nothing of the kind. It proved only that the sensations reported by those who claim out-of-body experience (OOB) can be replicated using technology. Nothing more. It had no bearing on OOB, ghosts, the soul, nothing. It was just a clever technological illusion. Well, I thought no further about it.

It's come up again, and this time I've thought about it some more (they're not making silly claims so I've been able to read it more calmly).

The report says that those who experience this artificial OOB effect report a sense of ownership of the body they 'inhabit' through the illusion. That it becomes theirs, even if it's someone of a different race and/or gender, or even a plastic dummy. The researchers plan to use it to attempt to treat sufferers of anorexia and bulimia, to correct their body image. Worth a try. It might work, it might not, but at least it's not drugs.

However, it made me think. If the mind can be so easily disconnected from the body, why is nobody apparently following up the implications of that? From where I'm standing, it has some pretty big implications.

Okay, I'm biased because of my particular interest but even so, the implications are there. A readily disconnectable mind/body pair suggests firstly that they might well be separate things (something psychology and neuroscience have been known to fight over) and secondly, that they are not particularly firmly connected in the first place.

So, rather than debunking OOB, these experiments increase the possibility that there is something real happening in those reports. It also puts the credibility of ghosts, the soul, and even (whisper it) religion up a notch. The sceptics will scoff, but let them.

In these experiments, the brain does not leave the body. Neither does the mind, if you'll allow me the assumption that these are separate things for the sake of this argument. This is not an OOB, it's just an illusion. The mind is not transferred into the other's body. All that happens is that sensory input from one person goes to another person's mind. No telepathy, no ghostly wandering, no Ka, no soul, just wires. This experiment doesn't prove or disprove anything supernatural--it wasn't intended to--but it does suggest another possible line of research.

What is interesting is that one person's mind can so readily accept that it is in a place other than in its own body. There is no resistance. There is no screaming madness at the 'wrongness' of it. It's just accepted and the recipient of the illusion genuinely feels as though they are in another body. Just like changing into a new and unfamiliar suit of clothes: they feel a bit odd at first but you soon get used to them.

I have no personal experience of OOB's and no religious agenda so I don't seek to convince anyone of the reality of those things. I have yet to be absolutely convinced myself. However, if the mind can accept that it is apparently outside the body and not find that situation uncomfortable, doesn't that at least make you wonder why?

Why would the mind be so capable of dealing with that?


heyjude said...

fascinating - once its more developed it might have mental health implications as well-and how about changing bodily experience in areas such as pain management or addiction? the possibilities astound if ...
well seems like there are still lots of ifs to work out. bears watch though

ver: flabil

Romulus Crowe said...

It could be very useful in medical applications, but my own thoughts are wandering elswhere, I admit.

The cost of this equipment will come down sharply because of its entertainment value. That doesn't annoy me, but I know it annoys some. Low-cost equipment is good for science.

Southern Writer said...

If it can change body image, maybe the image can change the body. I'll imagine one taller and thinner, with slim hips and high, firm, perfectly round breasts, all of it untouched by age and gravity. In addition, I'd like my hands and feet to be smaller, my eyes to be bigger (and perfect eyesight restored), my lips to be plumper ... ah hell, I'll just cut out a picture of Angelina Jolie and paste it to my face.

Romulus Crowe said...

I've imagined a body lke that sometimes. I'd better be careful - it wouldn't suit me!

Not too thin though. If you're showing enough ribs that you look like a xylophone, you're far too thin.

The mind does have considerable control over the body, to the extent that real wounds can appear and so can symptoms of illnesses that aren't there. On the other hand, some can withstand heat and cold that would leave most of us in agony, some of the things Chinese monks and others can do is amazing, and if you ever get the chance to see the Chinese State Circus, go for it. Count how many times you say 'Nobody could do that'.

You can intimidate people just by standing the right way, because confidence shows in your stance. Body-language is much maligned and derided but it's more powerful than words if used effectively. I've faced down much bigger people by giving the impression that I'm some kind of Hannibal Lector character. I avoid fighting by looking like someone who might deep-fry their heart in batter. Sometimes there's no need even to speak.

There's some evidence that thinking about exercise for half an hour burns almost as many calories as exercising for half an hour. There's a lot of evidence saying that your general state of health depends on how healthy you think you are. Mine took quite a hit last time I saw a doctor. I won't do that again.

The mind seems to regard the body as a vehicle it controls and doesn't seem bothered if it's 'placed' in a different one. Everything points to the mind and body being separate things, with the body being something the mind uses to get around.

I don't think we 'become' ghosts when we die. I think the ghost is already there inside. We are the ghosts, but we currently have a vehicle to interact with the world. When it wears out, things get interesting.

opinions powered by SendLove.to